On 27 December 2017, Vida Movahed stood on a utility box on Revolution Street in Tehran and dangled a white headscarf on a stick in defiance. She was challenging the system’s dress code, protesting Iran’s compulsory hijab law. An hour later, she was arrested. Images of Movahed’s defiance went viral. A month later, graduate student, Narges Hosseini followed the same path, on the same corner. Then, more women did the same, launching a movement that became known as “The Girls of Revolution Street.” And the movement has not slowed down… rather momentum has propelled it forward… the revolution is here.
For the past three months, civil disobedience in Iran has challenged the system’s norms. The culmination of decades of frustration, aimed at breaking the chains of medievalism, inequality, and gender oppression. Their aim is the removal of the compulsory hijab and greater rights for women. Iran’s archaic formal and dark dress code, and restrictive policies ordered by clerics and politicians – all men – that have been meant to erase individuality, are being challenged.
Challenging the Norms
The paternalistic culture in Iran favors males over females except when it comes to traditional roles, such as childbearing. Women are discouraged from joining the workforce and if they do, they are paid at half the rate of men. Further, women receive half what men receive for inheritances. Women are not considered credible witnesses in court. Married women cannot divorce or travel abroad without their husband’s permission. Women are discouraged from attending college and if they do, preference for class admittance is given to men.
Iranian women want normalcy. Their movement is liberal, and informed, with great expectations. They want college, professional careers, freedom to international travel, to serve in politics, and freedom of movement in society without exclusion. And they want the freedom to say and wear what they want without being persecuted, detained, or killed. They are determined. And that determination existed long before Mahsa Amini’s arrest by the morality police and subsequent death while in custody.
Feminists around the world are looking to Iran. No one, not “the system” in Iran, or any other government, especially any that make aggression toward women part of their political brand, expected the power of women in Iran to stand up and demand change.
Old World Order
While Iran’s leaders have portrayed the protests as “riots” instigated by the country’s foreign enemies, the overwhelming majority of protestors have been unarmed and peaceful. Still, more than 15,000 people have been arrested – some as young as twelve-years-old. At least 400 have been killed in the protests by security forces. Some monitoring groups place that number much higher.
Bails have been set so high that families cannot afford to pay them. The assistant prosecutor has labeled the acts by the women protestors as “grave and dangerous”. When Narges Hosseini was arrested in 2018, she was held on 500,000 million tomans, the equivalent of $135,000 USD. Hosseini was arrested for a second time in September 2022. No reason was given for her arrest. The prosecutor called her detainment “preventative detention.” A look at Iran’s court documents indicates that Hosseini was sentenced on 21 September 2022, to three years and 6 months in prison. She was charged with “Propaganda against the State – Article 500 IPC” and “Membership in organizations that aim to disrupt national security – Article 499 IPC.” Ponder that for a moment.
Iranian courts operate under the influence of security and intelligence forces to impose harsh sentences following sham trials, marked by abstract and largely secret processes. Since 2017, the Islamic Republic has issued a total of 92 years of prison time to women who opposed the compulsory hijab law.
Woman, Life, Freedom
Unlike the feminist activism of old, today’s movement is playing across social media platforms, on 24/7 cable and satellite television, and across the internet, on cell phones – globally and in real-time… and their list of grievances is long. But there is strength in numbers. As Iranian women risk everything to assemble, to march, and to chant “Woman, Life, Freedom”, the women of the world want you to know… you are not alone.
At the World Cup, the Iranian team stood silently during Iran’s National Anthem – signaling their solidarity with the protestors. The only thing that would have made that moment better – they could have taken a knee.
The revolution has arrived, and it IS being televised… to the world.
#ThinkingOutLoud #TheGirlsofRevolutionStreet #Mahsa_Amini #Iranprotests #compulsoryhijab #Iran
With gratitude… Lara
Photo Credit: Vida Movahed by Nazilai – licensed under CC by SA-4.0